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Uncovering Spiritual Abuse: The Power of Story

Today has been filled with community and fellowship and celebration as part of CBF SC 25th Anniversary General Assembly. I couldn’t help but be a bit overcome and overwhelmed by the stories of those who gathered together to help form BWIM SC and CBF SC.

Because it’s this power of story that helped me to uncover the spiritual abuse I experienced. It was meeting and hearing that there were baptists who gathered together and worshipped with women who preached and led worship and chaired committees that slowly opened my eyes to another whole world of possibility.

If there were communities of faith and baptist state and regional groups who gathered together and welcomed and affirmed women in ministry, then maybe this calling that had been wrestling within me trying to find its voice wasn’t something I had to keep telling to be quiet. Maybe I just needed to find a fellowship who worked in cooperation with us each other, who built each other up, challenged each other, and communed together.

And maybe the more we tell our stories, the more people we can help recover from spiritual abuse. Maybe the power of story is just like the power of the spoken word that brings light into the darkness and life from the depths.

On Writing and Speaking about Spiritual Abuse: Why Me?

I can remember the summer when a group of youth led a worship service at a small church and were told only the guys could be the ones who preached during the Sunday morning service. The reasoning was that the churches where we were going wouldn’t or didn’t support women preachers. I thought this might very well be true as a woman who preached was much different theological from a woman who led Bible study for kids, but still there was this question lodged within me, Did the church where we were going not support women as preachers or did the church who was sending us not support women as preachers? 

And as I wrestled with this question, I wondered as I often did, Why me? Why did it seem that these questions always came to my mind sinking deeply into my heart and soul causing me to wonder about whether all churches believe women couldn’t be preachers? Why was there just an inkling of doubt about the teaching and preaching I heard about the role of women? Why was there something within me that bucked the idea that my purpose in life was to make sure I didn’t get pregnant until I was married and then get pregnant without complications? Why me?

More than once I voiced my concerns to adults and was told, “Why do you feel like you need more? Why do you feel like you need to speak?” I answered honestly then as I do today, “I don’t know, except I feel called to preach and teach and ask questions.”

The doubt and fear that was instilled into me when I voiced these questions about the inequality that existed was spiritual abuse. It was a way to silence opposition and coerce obedience to a certain set of expectations. Obedience to this set of expectations maintained and kept power in the hands of the powerful decision makers. 

And I just wonder if perhaps I’m not the only one who found herself in the midst of communities of faith where something felt off, not quite right. I wonder if there were others, are others like me who are beginning to feel the unsettled realization that there is more to know and who indeed want to seek and find Truth.

Questions lead to a journey of discovery not only of who God truly is, but who you really are. As you find yourself in the midst of this journey, I hope what you will find is what I have found, my true self, the way my individual light and life can make a difference to those who are hurting. What I hope you find is the strength of a community of other people who have asked tough questions and have found Truth. When you do find your true self, the Divine, and Truth, peace and wholeness will envelope you in the light of love for yourself and others.

 

Am I Doing this Right?

As I was burning the dead plants from our garden in preparation for our Ash Wednesday services, I was overwhelmed with uncertainty. Am I doing this right? While we practiced baptism, leading communion, and discussed funerals and marriage ceremonies, we never burned ashes. Perhaps it’s because the celebration of Ash Wednesday isn’t all that common in baptist churches or perhaps it’s because there is ample opportunity to buy ashes already burned and ready for imposition. Perhaps it’s because part as communities of faith, we often assume that the way we’ve always done things will hold up.

As I watched the dead plants become ash while trying to keep our 16 month old a safe distance from the flame, I remembered the first time I had seen someone bearing the mark of the cross on an Ash Wednesday. It was my best friend who I knew attended the Catholic church across the street from my Southern Baptist Church and when she arrived to school, I tried to clean her forehead hoping to save her from embarrassment of having dirt on her head, which is what best friends do in middle school.

She stopped my hand as I tried and said, “It’s a cross. I went to mass this morning because it’s Ash Wednesday.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was embarrassed to wear my cross earrings to middle school and often hid my WWJD bracelet under my long sleeves, but here she was bearing the mark of the cross on her forehead for all to see. Her profession of faith and confession that she was dust and to dust she would return didn’t match my understanding of Catholics as “the others” and “nonbelievers.”

19 years later, as a I prepared the ashes for our own Baptist Ash Wednesday service, I was overwhelmed with the question: Am I doing this right? Am I including all? Am I welcoming all? Am I remembering that we are all the people of God overcome with our own dustiness at times and wanting only to find the divine breath that made us come to life? As a minister, am I challenging our human tendency to group ourselves into us and them, believer and nonbeliever, faithful and unfaithful? Am I questioning the times that we turn a finger to blame someone else for handing us the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil unwilling to admit that we did indeed take a bite?

And as the tomato stalks that had yielded fruit only to be eaten by bugs and plagued by blight turned to ash, so too did my question. Maybe it isn’t whether I am burning ashes “right” or ministering “right,” but rather that I am a witness to the miraculous power of creation to die and rise again. I am a witness that out of dust can come to life because the Divine walks among us.

Wrinkled Joy

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We finally got our Christmas decorations up this weekend. We were waiting until we had our girls again and I wasn’t quite ready to move from the season of gratitude into a season of waiting and searching in our home. Couldn’t I teach our kids more about thanksgiving lasting all year if we just left up those decorations?

But as I watched them walk around the tree light debating over which tree would be easiest to pick back up if their younger brother decided to try to pull up on it, I knew we needed this season. And so we climbed the garage to get down the boxes marked Christmas and there at the bottom of the ornament was joy wrinkled and waiting.

Wrinkled joy.

The joy of the birth of the Christ Child wrinkled with the realities of a year of uncertainity and grief in so many ways. Joy that has been packed away, waiting to be brought out for this season of Advent. Joy that just needs to be shaken and ironed out.

Or maybe, this is joy wrinkled by the truth of a messiah born in a manger surrounded by outcasts. Maybe this wrinkled joy is exactly what we have been awaiting.

On Finding Sure Footing Again

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Just yesterday, I wrote to our BWIM SC newsletter list how the election results had left me off balance and unsure of what we could do, what we should do. I wasn’t sure because I hadn’t ever been here before and although I had a pulse on the influence of our president elect in more conservative congregations and communities, I still didn’t think his voice would be enough to drown out all the other voices who had come together.

And I’ve been in a state in which hands have been offered and I have stood up, but much like Ben when I’ve tried to get him to walk holding my hands, I’ve sat back down pursed out my lip and pouted. I wasn’t ready to walk yet. I wanted to be carried.

Then today, I saw the pure joy in Ben’s face as he took three unprompted steps from the coffee table to the chair, something we have been seeing off and on over the Thanksgiving break, but this time it was different. He was doing it on his own. He was stepping out. I guess it’s time for me to do the same; to admit that even in the midst of uncertainty, still I am called to write, to study, and to preach.

I have no doubt the road ahead for Ben will be filled with bumps and bruises as he gets his sea legs. I know the same will be true for me, but I hope like him I will step joyfully and courageously into this next phase and stage of ministry and motherhood as we walk together.

Enough is Enough

I have followed and read almost every story, comment, and response following the release of the video capturing the toxic culture of sexual assault, misogyny, and violence against women that plagues our society. I have written why we don’t share out stories in the midst of the this peak into the justification and defense of participating in this culture. I have written and wrestled with the truth that spiritual abuse lives and thrives in our communities of faith because we are afraid to talk about sexuality and sexual assault in our communities of faith.

I have cried and mourned that my reality as a girl who grew up in a fundamentalist community of faith may also be my daughters’ reality. I have hoped and prayed that the allegations and spread of this video would ignite a fervor, a revelation, a revival among those who are fighting for the equality of women only to be disappointed and disheartened by the defense and endorsement of the pastors, ministers, and fellow women of this behavior. And in my disappointment, I have fallen into the same mindset of fear and shame over who I am and moved to the shadows of silence and oppression because it is where I am comfortable and what is most familiar.

And then I listened to Michelle Obama voicing her hurt, her outrage, and her commitment to keep fighting. I listened and was reminded of the women who are standing strong and standing up, even though they are being criticizes, intimidated, and condemned by those whose power is threatened because their shadow lives and beliefs are being brought to the light. I listened and quieted the monsters of shame and vulnerability that told me to disengage from conversation because my voice didn’t matter and wouldn’t make a difference.

Michelle is right, enough is enough.

If you think the follow up to this video’s release that the system is rigged is not carefully, calculated political divergence, it’s time to open your eyes. The system is rigged, but not because it is exposing powerful men who use their power against women. The system is rigged because a conversation about sexual assault, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and violence against women is way overdue and because women who venture to stand up and speak out are still met with skepticism, intimidation, and mansplaining. If you don’t think these responses aren’t carefully thought out to keep power in the hands of the powerful because there is a viable threat to that power being overturned, it’s time to open your eyes.

I know the pain and humiliation that comes from opening your eyes to the realization that you have been played, manipulated, and tricked. I know it causes you to doubt yourself, your instincts, and the very core of who are, but it’s time to get over ourselves, our own insecurities, our own self-doubt in order to create something more for our children.

Our oldest just turned nine.

I remember turning nine.

There is no way I want her to remember this.

Let’s keep fighting.

Why We Don’t Share Our Stories

The release of the video on Friday that reveals the rape culture in America and the reason there are so many women who have stories of sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape was appalling to many. And in light of this video, there were many, many brave women who shared their stories. Stories of being raped, of being groped, and of being intimidated, threatened, and bullied by men. But there are many more women who haven’t shared their stories. Women who can’t share their stories because the abuse they experienced were in churches, were by deacons, were by ministers. These women who experienced not only sexual abuse, but spiritual abuse were forced to sign clauses and agreements that prevent them from sharing their stories in order to preserve a facade of holiness and righteousness that doesn’t exist. These women were shamed into this silence in order to preserve the institution of church and the hierarchy of power that excludes and oppresses them. These women were told that if their stories got out the church would split, contributions would drop, and it would be their fault.

What the evangelical response to this video has revealed is that they have contributed to this rape culture, this spiritual abuse and in standing by someone who has participated in this culture and has risen to the power and influence of being a presidential candidate, they hope that their secrets and positions are protected and preserved.

If these stories can’t be shared because of threats and bullying, then it up to us as the people of God to create space for healing and hope for those who have not only experienced sexual abuse, but had spiritual abuse heaped on top of those experiences. We have to be willing to ask tough questions of our leaders and practices. We have to be willing to say no to religious leaders who have histories and pasts of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. We have to be willing to be brave for those who can’t share their stories.

Thanks be to God for those who are already standing up for the oppressed, the silenced, and the abused.

How Flood Relief Changed My Call to Ministry

It’s been a year since Columbia was devastated with a historic flood. It isn’t that we weren’t warned that the rain was coming, it’s that no one who lived in famously hot Columbia could imagine what that amount of rainfall could do to homes, businesses, and lives.

Just last week I took Waylon to our vet whose offices were completely flooded. I asked our vet if they were excited to be moving back into their old offices and she told me that after months of renovation, they had to give up their old offices. They were deemed uninhabitable even with the repair work that had been done. I’ve talked to families who have spent the last year recovering and restoring home who have now decided they want to try to sell the house, but don’t know what to expect since they know it will be listed as a flood prone house.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my involvement as a pastor in the midst of disaster relief has changed the way I view ministry and changed my call to ministry. The outpouring of support and help from congregations all over the state and indeed the southeast was soul filling and overwhelming. I won’t forget the number of clergy colleagues who contacted me to ask how they could help and the number of friends and family who offered support. It’s the closest I have seen to the kingdom of God being here on earth.

But there was something else that happened. As I did some of the drop offs and deliveries to the nonprofits who requested help, I heard time and time again, “I wish it were always like this,” “Too bad this won’t last,” “If only we had had this two months ago.”

These response opened my ears and my eyes to the ongoing need those who are helping the homeless, those in the midst of crisis, and those who are ostracized every day. Hearing their stories, changed my story. I wanted to partner with those nonprofits and ministries who were doing the hard work of developing and maintaining relationships. I wanted to offer not one time help, but ongoing help to my neighbors in need. ministrieslab is helping us do just that.

Two of our partners, The Cooperative Ministry and Resurrections have requested the following items for distribution to those who are in need this winter.

  • women, men, and children’s gently used coats
  • women, men, and children’s gently used shoes
  • Blankets
  • Winter coats
  • Winter clothes of all types (shirts/pants) Regarding clothing: 96 % of the need on our site is for men’s sizes L-4XL with emphasis on XL and XXL
  • Tennis shoes men

If you would like to help partner with great people who are helping those who are in need day in and day out with these items, please let me know!

After the Rain

Last night, I stood on our back porch smelling the post-rain air. The air was particularly sweet because it had been threatening to rain for two days. The herb garden Sam got started for me for my birthday in April had been baking on the steps of our front porch ready to soak up the rain that took two days to come. As I checked on them today, I realized the rain yesterday hadn’t been enough. They already needed to be watered again.

While I left CBF General Assembly renewed by the community and solidarity of those of us who are united in support of the entire LGTBQ community, it was like the rain my herbs got in last night. It offered a brief refreshment, but then the summer heat of reality came back as articles from people who believe that the hiring policy of CBF doesn’t need to be addressed began to appear. I want to believe in the Illumination Project announced by CBF conveniently on the Wednesday morning of the CBF General Assembly. I want to believe that this process will be a way to “provide more light and less heat,” to the LGTBQ question.

But those of us who have who have been baking in the heat of search committees and churches, who have lost out on opportunities to serve in churches because of our gender, our sexuality, because of who we are, are praying desperately for the refreshing rain of a community of faith who will let us grow into the ministers we are called to be. We were hoping we wouldn’t be told to wait, to continue baking in the heat while others search for light.

It’s a step in the right direction, but CBF has to continue to water and tend to ministers of the LGTBQ, ministers who are women, and ministers who are actively and purposely supporting ministers from these communities.

One scattered shower of hope isn’t enough.

You Wouldn’t Want to Work in That Church, Would You?

As I have shared some of my pastor search experiences as a female pastor, I have often gotten the response from colleagues, “But you wouldn’t want to work in that church, would you?”

“That” church is meant to describe churches that “aren’t ready” for a female senior pastor. At first when I was asked this question, I wholeheartedly agreed, “Yeah, you know it’s not really worth it if a church is not ready,” but recently I’ve changed my response.

The thing is I am not applying to Southern Baptist Churches who publicly announce that they don’t allow or call women as senior pastors and disassociate with churches who call women as pastors or associate pastors because they don’t believe women are called to that type of leadership. I am applying to churches who are affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a fellowship that claims as one of its founding principles support of women in ministry. These are the congregations who are supposed to have a place and a voice for women in ministry.

“You wouldn’t want to work in that church, would you?” Well, actually yes. I do want to work in a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Church. I want to work in a place that supports and affirms women in ministry and churches who affiliate with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship churches are supposed to be those places for women in ministry.

But they aren’t.

And even as this is openly acknowledged, the sentiment as I share my story is still the same, “You wouldn’t want to work in that church, would you?” And this sentiment comes from male colleagues. Male colleagues who don’t have to worry and wonder about whether they are being rejected from pastor positions because of their experiences or because of their gender. Now that I think about it, this response to the systematic discrimination that exists in our churches sounds a whole lot like mansplaining.

Yes, actually I would like equal opportunity to apply and work in my profession as you do as my male colleague. Yes, I would like to lead and guide a congregation to stop participating in spiritual abuse that oppresses and silences women solely because of their gender. Yes, I would like to work in “that” church because pastoring “that” church is what I have been called to do.